Nationality: Italian. Born: Santo Stefano Belbro, 9 September 1908. Education: A Jesuit school, Turin; Ginnasio Moderno, Turin; Liceo Massimo d'Azeglio, 1924-27; University of Turin, 1927-30, degree in letters 1930. Career: Translator and teacher in the early 1930s; editor, La Cultura review, Turin, 1934-35; confined for association with communists to Brancaleone Calabro for 8 months, 1935-36; staff member, Einaudi, publishers, Turin, from 1942. Awards: Strega prize, 1950. Died: 27 August 1950 (suicide).
Opere. 16 vols., 1960-68.
Feria d'agosto. 1946; translated in part as Summer Storm and Other Stories, 1966.
Prima che il gallo canti (includes "Il carcere" and "La casa in collina"). 1949; "Il carcere" as "The Political Prisoner," in The Political Prisoner, 1959; "La casa in collina" as The House on the Hill, 1961.
La bella estate (includes "La bella estate," "Il diavolo sulle colline," "Tra donne sole"). 1949; "La bella estate" as "The Beautiful Summer," in The Political Prisoner, 1959; "Il diavolo sulle colline" as The Devil in the Hills, 1959; "Tra donne sole" as Among Women Only, 1953, and For Women Only, 1959.
Notte di festa. 1953; as Festival Night and Other Stories, 1964.
The Political Prisoner. 1959.
Fuoco grande, with Bianca Garufi. 1959; as A Great Fire, in The Beach, 1963.
Racconti. 1960; as Told in Confidence and Other Stories, 1971.
The Leather Jacket: Stories, edited by Margaret Crosland. 1980.
Paesi tuoi. 1941; as The Harvesters, 1961.
La spiaggia. 1942; as The Beach, 1963.
Dialoghi con Leucò. 1947; as Dialogues with Leucò, 1965.
Il compagno. 1947; as The Comrade, 1959.
La luna e i falò. 1950; as The Moon and the Bonfires, 1952; as The Moon and the Bonfire, 1952.
Ciau Masino. 1969.
Lavorare stanca. 1936; revised edition, 1943; as Hard Labor, 1979.
Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (includes La terra e la morte). 1951.
Poesie edite e inedite, edited by Italo Calvino. 1962.
A Mania for Solitude: Selected Poems 1930-1950, edited by Margaret Crosland. 1969; as Selected Poems, 1971.
La letteratura americana e altri saggi. 1951; as American Literature: Essays and Opinions, 1970.
Il mestiere di vivere: Diario 1935-1950. 1952; as The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935-1950, 1961; as This Business of Living, 1961.
8 poesie inedite e quattro lettere a un'amica. 1964.
Lettere 1924-50, edited by Lorenzo Mondo. 2 vols., 1966; asSelected Letters 1924-1950, edited by A. E. Murch, 1969.
Selected Works, edited by R. W. Flint. 1968.
Vita attraverso le lettere, edited by Lorenzo Mondo. 1973.
La collana viola: lettere 1945-1950. 1991.
Translator, Il nostro signor Wrenn, by Sinclair Lewis. 1931.
Translator, Moby Dick, by Melville. 1932.
Translator, Riso nero, by Sherwood Anderson. 1932.
Translator, Dedalus, by Joyce. 1934.
Translator, Il 42° parallelo, by John Dos Passos. 1935.
Translator, Un mucchio de quattrini, by John Dos Passos. 1937.
Translator, Autobiografia di Alice Toklas, by Gertrude Stein. 1938.
Translator, Moll Flanders, by Defoe. 1938.
Translator, David Copperfield, by Dickens. 1939.
Translator, Tre esistenze, by Gertrude Stein. 1940.
Translator, Benito Cereno, by Melville. 1940.
Translator, La rivoluzione inglese del 1688-89, by G. M. Trevelyan. 1941.
Translator, Il cavallo di Troia, by Christopher Morley. 1941.
Translator, Il borgo, by Faulkner. 1942.
Translator, Capitano Smith, by R. Henriques. 1947.*
Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini by Donald W. Heiney, 1968; The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Pavese's Works by Gian-Paolo Biasin, 1968; The Narrative of Realism and Myth: Verga, Lawrence, Faulkner, Pavese by Gregory L. Lucente, 1981; Pavese: A Study of the Major Novels and Poems by Doug Thompson, 1982; An Absurd Vice: A Biography of Pavese by Davide Lajolo, 1983; Pavese by Áine O'Healy, 1988; "Woman as Conquered Landscape in Cesare Pavese's La luna e i falo" by Laura A. Salsini, in Cincinnati Romance Review, 1993, pp. 177-85; "The Value and Devaluation of Nature and Landscape in Pavese's La luna e i falo" by Christopher Concolino, in Italian Culture, 1993, pp. 273-84.* * *
The novels and short fiction of Cesare Pavese feature the recurring, tormented figure that is by now legendary. The motifs in his short fiction, often elaborated in his novels, radiate around a knot of irresolvable conflicts and spiritual angst that is both autobiographical and reflective of the social and literary tenor of Italy in the 1930s and 1940s. Pavese's work is informed by his anti-Fascist experience—which takes a number of forms, including the development of the myth of America, common to other writers, such as Vittorini; his internment ("Land of Exile"); and his many disappointments in love. He depicts the cruelty of human nature—of man toward woman ("Wedding Trip," "Suicides") and woman toward man ("The Idol")—as well as the natural cycles that govern our world. The poignancy and power of Pavese's writing stems from the lyricism of a remote past that is revisited and from the often tragic mire of irreconcilable elements. These include a host of mutually exclusive impulses within the male protagonist. The desire to return to his homeland and his childhood is offset by the sense of non-belonging that follows him everywhere. His inability to put down roots undermines his need for roots. His desire for happiness shrivels under his hopelessness. The fulcrum on which these conflicts balance is the theme of solitude: Pavese's male protagonists fashion for themselves a self-containment that breeds that very solitude from which they suffer.
Perhaps the short story "The Family" is the best exemplification of just such an emotional trap. At the age of almost 30, Corradino begins to revisit the river where he and his friends had often gone boating in their youth. The motif of a return (elsewhere in the form of an immigrant returning from America) is characteristic of Pavese's narrative. Corradino's friends know that Corradino hates to be alone and that in the evening he abandons his furnished room for his friends' homes. Nonetheless, he decides to spend July, when his friends are away on vacation, in Turin and goes alone each day to the river to smoke and swim and meditate.
His simultaneous love and horror of solitude become more evident as Corradino struggles with the reality, rooted in a vision of Freudian predeterminism, of his own—and presumably a universal—inability to change. He tells his friend's wife that he would have to be deeply tanned if he were ever to get married: "Because it changes me. I feel a different man" (translated by A. E. Murch). Yet he has a longing "for something to happen to change his life without robbing him of a single of his old habits."
Corradino affirms that a child of six years old already has all the characteristics of the man. Yet soon Corradino meets Cate, an old girlfriend he dropped years ago, who has changed; she is now a sophisticated, self-confident, and financially self-sufficient woman of 28 years. Confronted by his past in Cate, Corradino feels at a loss, discomfited by the conviction that it is now she who no longer seems to desire or need him. Cate's new independence grows more alarming when she suddenly announces that she has a son, Dino, and shortly thereafter announces that the child is his. Cate further confounds him by making absolutely no demands on him, and Corradino is torn by disbelief, resentment that the three women in her family raised Dino without him, and fear that he will be imposed upon, that he is now trapped. In an ironic parallel storyline his lover Ernesta calls, and he treats her with the same coolness and indifference with which he must once have treated Cate.
Corradino acknowledges to himself that he has never been involved with anyone, that he has had plenty of women but has dropped them all, and that he has "shirked all … [his] responsibilities." The ultimate irony is that when he finally decides to ask the elusive Cate to marry him, she rejects him, for she is in love with another man. She explains to him that in fact she has changed while he has not. His decision to drop her in the past has had irreversible consequences. Revisiting the past has shown him that he lived only a fraction of what there was to be lived, and Corradino is left on the fringes of "the family."
Many of Pavese's male protagonists share this feeling of exile—emotional, social, and familial. This exile is internal—and to some extent self-inflicted—as well as external. In "Land of Exile" the protagonist's restlessness follows him into the internment and home again to Piedmont (Pavese's birthplace). Often, this sense of restlessness revolves around the female figure, for woman in Pavese is fundamentally different from man, alternately cause and victim of the protagonists' unhappiness. It would perhaps not be going too far to say that in Pavese's narrative the woman functions as the man's natural enemy. She is both threat to his solitude and relief from it. In "Wedding Trip" Cilia's husband, the narrator, laments his solitude even more than her untimely death. Yet his killing indifference through their marriage was caused by his thwarted desire for freedom from all commitments, as embodied in the free-roaming, adventurous figure of Malagigi.
In "Suicides," another story of the cruel war between the sexes, the spurned Carlotta kills herself. Her lover, torn between guilt and bitterness, reveals the impossibility of harmony in Pavese's narrative when he confesses, "So, having been treated unjustly, I revenged myself, not on the guilty one but on another woman, as happens in this world."
Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), novelist, poet, and critic, ranks as perhaps the most important Italian novelist of the 20th century. His work fuses considerations of poetic and epic representation, the theme of solitude, and the concept of myth.
Cesare Pavese was born on Sept. 9, 1908, at Santo Stefano Belbo in the Piedmont, the son of a lower-middle-class family of rural background. Although his family lived in Turin, Pavese never severed his childhood ties with the countryside. He lived with his parents and, after their death, with his sister's family until the end of his life.
After graduating from the University of Turin in 1930 with a thesis on Walt Whitman, Pavese began translating American novels and worked for the publishing house of Einaudi. In 1935 Pavese was arrested with members of the anti-Fascist group Giustizia e Libertà and was expelled from the Fascist party, to which he had belonged since 1932. He was exiled for 3 years to southern Italy, where he began to write his first short novels. Pavese returned to Turin in 1936, having been pardoned, and he continued his translations and began to work full time for Einaudi in 1938. He did not participate in the war or in the Resistance, and he became a member of the Communist party in 1945. He spent most of the last 2 war years as "a recluse among the hills" with his sister's family, with whom he returned to Turin in April 1945. On June 24, 1950, Pavese was awarded the coveted Strega Prize, and on August 27, having for years courted the idea of suicide, he died by his own hand in the Hotel Roma in Turin.
Preoccupations and Themes
Pavese was without doubt the most universally cultured Italian writer of his generation. Shy, introspective, and suffering from numerous neuroses, he counted among the great experiences of his life his encounter with American literature and with myth, the latter becoming increasingly dominant in his work. Thus the idea of the return to the past that the artist must accomplish and the treasury of memory both play an important part in his literary approach, for which he believed he had found the answer in myth. A central theme of his work is, furthermore, the question of solitude in all its aspects.
The publication dates of Pavese's works often did not coincide with their times of composition; nor did the manner of publication—many of his short novels were published collectively—necessarily indicate an internal schema. His works may be seen in the Goethean sense as "fragments of a great confession," there being no necessity or possibility of discerning a progressive development because all his writings, in the manner of a free fugue, circle around the same themes; it was Pavese's conviction that "every authentic writer is splendidly monotonous inasmuch as there prevails in his pages a recurrent mark, a formal law of fantasy that transforms the most diverse material into figures and situations which are almost always the same."
Pavese began his career with poetry. It was his aim to write objective expository verse of narrative character: poesia-racconto. He tended later toward immagineracconto, "image-recital," convincing himself in the end of the "exigency of a poetry not reducible to a mere recital." Thus, in his own words, the antilyric verse of Lavorare stanca (1936) was "an objective development of soberly expounded cases." In a style that moves between interior monologue and discours indirect libre and in a language close to dialect or, at least, to the spoken idiom, he recounted the adventure of an adolescent proud of his country origins whose experience of the city in the end conveys only a sense of tragic solitude. Late in life Pavese returned to confessional poetry with the nine poems of La terra e la morte (1947; written 1945) and Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (1951; written 1950).
Pavese's first published novel, Paesi tuoi (1941), represents, with Elio Vittorini's Conversazione in Sicilia (1941), a point of departure for Italian neorealism. Its programmatic flouting of conventions in all possible aspects—in language, style, and theme—and its almost documentary nature set a pattern for that whole movement. The novel was based on the antinomical character of country life and city life; yet the former was not at all idealized but shown in its bare, raw, and wretched existence with its story of incestuous passion. Nevertheless, there was an underlying nostalgic feeling for the earth, for the primeval, a mythical yearning for a return to the fountains, to the springtide of life, that underlies all of Pavese's writing.
La spiaggia (1942) is a variation of Pavese's theme of the eternal return, coveted forever as it is frustrated. It is a story of flight and evasion with its protagonist couple in vain attempting to return to the lost paradise of their youth. Il carcere (1949; written 1938-1939), according to its author "a tale about country and sex," is the story of Pavese's own exile, the experience of solitude and isolation. A thematic connection links Il compagno (1947; written 1946) and La casa in collina (1949; written 1947-1948). Although the political engagement in these two stories is stressed more than the myth, it becomes evident that the search for myth in the end implies a flight from historical presence and responsibility. Thus the solitary hero of the latter story, autobiographically close to his author, eventually evades responsibility with his final flight into myth, into the hills of his origin.
The three stories published together in 1949—La bella estate (written 1940), Il diavolo sulle colline (written 1948), and Tra donne sole (written 1949)—center on man's encounter with the city. As fascinating as the city might have seemed initially, it leads to complete disillusionment and isolation, entailing the impossibility of a return to the paradise of yore. This disillusionment is the experience of the women protagonists of La bella estate and Tra donne sole, as well as that of the couple in the symbolically charged Il diavolo sulle colline. La luna e i falò (1950; written 1949) represents a sum total of Pavesian symbolism and the thematic myth of the eternal return. It is to the hills of Santo Stefano Belbo, the hills of his childhood, that the protagonist, symbolically called Anguilla, returns, only to leave them again in search of his true self.
Feria d'agosto (1946) is a collection of prose poems and theoretical notes on the subjects of myth and childhood. I dialoghi con Leucò (1947)—in the guise of a conversation between mortals and Olympians—presents the result of Pavese's inquiries into the problems and implications of myth along the lines of Viconian philosophy and Jungian thought. La letteratura americana e altri saggi (1951) contains Pavese's critical writings on American literature, a considerable amount of which he translated. Il mestiere de vivere, his diary for the years 1935-1950 (published posthumously in 1952), ranks as one of the outstanding documents of its time. Of an uncompromising frankness as well as an unusual degree of introspection, it contains lucid observations on Pavese's personality and literary theory and astute reflections on a culture whose most sensitive representative he was. Also posthumously published were the short-story collection Notte di festa (1953; written 1936-1938) and the novel Fuoco grande (1959; written with Bianca Garufi in 1946).
Major studies of Pavese are in Italian. Two good studies in English of Pavese's work are Gian Paolo Biasin, The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Cesare Pavese's Works (1968), and Donald W. Heiney, Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini (1968). Recommended for general historical background is Sergio Pacifici, A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature: From Futurism to Neorealism (1962).
Lajolo, Davide, An absurd vice: a biography of Cesare Pavese, New York: New Directions, 1983.
Lajolo, Davide, Pavese, Milano: Rizzoli, 1984. □